Watts Riots, Los Angeles, 1965

Colorization Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization Manos Athanasiadis

Aug. 17, 1965: A. Z. Smith, left, begins the task of getting Smitty's Barber Shop on Beach St. back in shape following the Watts Riots. Business establishments owned by whites were the usual targets of looters and arsonists. Smith was one of the few blacks caught up in the turmoil. (photo: R. L. Oliver / Los Angeles Times)

Aug. 17, 1965: A. Z. Smith, left, begins the task of getting Smitty’s Barber Shop on Beach St. back in shape following the Watts Riots. Business establishments owned by whites were the usual targets of looters and arsonists. Smith was one of the few blacks caught up in the turmoil. (photo: R. L. Oliver / Los Angeles Times)

The Watts riots (or, Watts rebellion), took place in the Watts, Los Angeles neighbourhood in 1965.
On the evening of Wednesday, August 11, 1965, 21-year-old Marquette Frye, an African American man behind the wheel of his mother’s 1955 Buick, was pulled over for reckless driving by white California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer Lee Minikus. After administering a field sobriety test, Minikus placed Frye under arrest and radioed for his vehicle to be impounded. Marquette’s brother Ronald, a passenger in the vehicle, walked to their house nearby, bringing their mother, Rena Price, back with him.
The situation quickly escalated: Someone shoved Price, Frye was struck, Price jumped an officer, and another officer pulled out a shotgun. Backup police officers attempted to arrest Frye by using physical force to subdue him. After rumours spread that the police had roughed Frye up and kicked a pregnant woman, angry mobs formed. As the situation intensified, growing crowds of local residents watching the exchange began yelling and throwing objects at the police officers. After the arrests of Price and the Frye brothers, the crowd continued to grow. Police came to the scene to break up the crowd several times that night but were attacked by rocks and concrete.
After a night of increasing unrest, police and local black community leaders held a community meeting on Thursday, August 12, to discuss an action plan and to urge calm; the meeting failed. The rioting intensified and on Friday, August 13, about 2,300 National Guardsmen joined the police trying to maintain order on the streets. That number increased to 3,900 by midnight on Saturday, August 14. In addition to the guardsmen, 934 Los Angeles Police officers and 718 officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were deployed during the rioting.
White Americans were fearful of the breakdown of social order in Watts; many in the black community, however, saw the rioters as taking part in an “uprising against an oppressive system.” Between 31,000 and 35,000 adults participated in the riots over the course of six days, while about 70,000 people were “sympathetic, but not active.” Those actively participating in the riots started physical fights with police, blocked fire-fighters of the Los Angeles Fire Department from their safety duties, or beat white motorists. Arson and looting were largely confined to white-owned stores and businesses that were said to have caused resentment in the neighbourhood due to perceived unfairness. Over the six days, there were 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over €35 million in property damage. The riots were blamed principally on unemployment, although a later investigation also highlighted police racism. It was the city’s worst unrest until the Rodney King riots of 1992.
Marquette Frye, who smoked and drank heavily, died of pneumonia on December 20, 1986; he was 42. His mother, Rena Price, died on June 10, 2013, at 97. She never recovered the impounded 1955 Buick in which her son had been pulled over for driving while intoxicated on that fateful night of August 11, 1965, because the storage fees exceeded the car’s value.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: Watts riots
L.A.Times: 50 years later, images from the Watts riots still startle
Vintage Every Day: Life in Watts a Year After the 1965 Riots
Στα Ελληνικά:
Soft magazine: Wattstax Music Festival – Το Μαύρο Woodstock

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s